As the most recent production DR staffer (I’m an ’85), I often have trouble relating to some of the things that excite my coworkers. The usefulness of kidney belts and lift stands simply escapes me, and the intended application of bikes like the BMW 1200 GSA makes me scratch my still-present head of hair in utter confusion. That’s probably why Jimmy slid me the keys to this machine in the first place and asked for a test that he clearly could have written with his eyes closed; he wanted to teach me something. And so, after playing with nearly $20,000 worth of German engineering for a few weeks, here’s what I learned:
- Weighing in at over a quarter ton (598 pounds, to be exact), the Beemer is by no means light. However, she is incredibly well balanced. Even with a full tank, the weight feels low and settled rather than high and tippy, providing a surprisingly excellent center of gravity. There is a slight bit of Boxer crankshaft-induced, side-to-side gyro wobble when you rev this bike at a stop, but if you’re the kind of rider who revs his bike at stoplights or at splits in the trail, you probably deserve to almost tip over.
- I am literally astonished at how much torque this motorcycle produces. At any rpm, in any gear, at any speed, twisting the throttle will unweight the front end and cause the bike to rapidly accelerate with a robust, consistent hit. I suspect that, in addition to the second camshaft and bigger valves, a lot of this torque can be credited to the dialed-in EFI system, as well as the shaft drive, both of which deliver power with zero hesitation. On dirt, this translates into a strong delivery of power that can break the rear wheel loose in low-traction scenarios with almost no warning. If you’re going to take this bike off-road, take it e-a-s-y until you get the hang of it!
- The BMW shifts well, but much like a car it won’t let you cheat one bit with the clutch-you have to pull that sucker in to the grip, or back off if you want to change gears. This isn’t a 125cc two-stroke!
- Previously, my only experience with ABS on a motorcycle has been when I’ve bent rotors at EnduroCross races. Thankfully, BMW Motorrad’s optional integral ABS system works better than that. On the street, it kicks in a bit earlier than I like (sometimes on rapid engine deceleration with minor manual braking), but it never bothered me enough on-road to want to turn it off completely. Off-road is a different story!
- I’ll admit: Many of the accoutrements that I first scoffed at on this machine have really grown on me. The grip heaters really did help keep me warm. The digital display with more functions than a graphing calculator became pretty useful once I figured it out. And despite the high number of revenge flashes that I’ve received from opposing cars, the plethora of headlights is incredible; I felt super safe ripping around on this bike after the sun had gone down.
- What is ESA? It stands for Electronic Suspension Adjust, and it’s a revolutionary new BMW technology that allows the rider to change the suspension’s ride height and damping, on the fly, in three different settings. On the GSA, this feature proved to have actual effects on the handling of the motorcycle, as you could raise the suspension in the stroke and get more damping, or stiffen the whole setup to accommodate a passenger. I found that playing with the ESA on the street altered the bike’s ability to absorb harsher bumps in the road, while tinkering with the settings on dirt helped the bike find a happy (though deceptively lightweight) feel to it. BMW has a habit of pioneering bold, new components and then pushing through the flaws to make them commonplace. We’ll see ESA on dirt bikes some day!
- You’d think with two cylinders, an 8.7-gallon fuel tank and more room for luggage than the first-class cabin on a 747 that there would be no room left on the GSA for a rider, much less a passenger. Not so! Somehow, BMW managed to work all of the various components of the 1200 around a smart ergonomic setup that keeps the rider in a comfortable, dirt bike-like riding position. The seat is cushy and great for long rides, the handlebar bend is decent when the rider is seated (some adjustment is necessary for prolonged standing) and the windscreen makes high speeds a joy. No doubt, BMW did its hausaufgaben when it came to ergos on the 1200.
- If there’s one thing the BMW does better than a dirt bike, it’s cooling. Although air-cooled, this motorcycle is not easy to overheat, and it clearly takes more abuse than I was able to dish out to raise the temperature to a too-high level. I’m sure that Erzberg-style rocks would do the trick, but for the daily grind of splitting lanes and jamming down fire roads, the GSA will remain at the right temp without even trying.
- Watching the variety of reactions the BMW draws from others is arguably more fun than checking out the bike yourself. Bored commuters, imprisoned in their Starbucks-smelling hybrid cars, will stare in jealous amazement at the BMW’s sleek lines and rugged style. Fellow off-roaders tend to raise an eyebrow in amused recognition of the fact that it takes muscle and guts to take this bike off of the blacktop. As for the ladies…well, most of the general female population will look at the average BMW rider like he’s some sort of cosmonaut in the midst of a transcontinental journey. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I couldn’t tell you!
In the end, who the heck is this bike for? After toying with the big GSA for over a month, I’ve determined that the BMW is part enduro bike, part streetbike, part transformer and part NASA. It’s the perfect machine for seasoned enduro riders with aging joints who want to stay on two wheels without sacrificing their off-road heritage, and it’s also a great bike for younger pilots who crave function and technology in an indisputably cool package. No doubt, the BMW 1200 GSA is on the high, heavy and expensive end of the spectrum of bikes that you’ll see in Dirt Rider, but then again it’s one of the only machines we’ve tested that’s capable of traveling all the way around the world in stock form. And if your goal is to see the world, what better way to do it than on a big dirt bike?
|2010 BMW 1200 GSA|
|Price:||$17,000 (plus $495 destination charge)|
|Weight (tank full):||598 lb|
|Seat height:||34.75 in.|
|Ground clearance:||6.5 in.|